J. Samia Mair
By J. Samia Mair
Silence. I remember lying on the sofa, enjoying the sound of nothingness. No shouting, no slamming doors, no awful names poisoning the air. The rest of my family had left, and I welcomed the lull in fighting. I was a happy child, but I was not raised in a happy home.
As I started to drift to sleep, a cool, gentle breeze passed over me. I felt an immediate sense of relief. It was as if every burden had been lifted, every worry comforted, every bad memory erased. Words cannot adequately describe the few seconds of peace that I felt that afternoon. But then, as now, I believed it was from another world.
After that day and for many years to come, I would lay down on the same sofa, around the same time, hoping that the breeze would return. I never experienced it again. But I know it exists.
In many ways, I was a typical, well-adjusted American girl. I had friends, did well in school and wanted those things most other teenagers wanted. But I felt different as well. I was raised in a primarily atheist home. Religion was viewed as a crutch for the weak, and the religious were deemed acceptable objects of scorn. But I always believed there must be something else beyond the apparent. I wondered: “Where do I come from? Why I am here? What should I do, while I am here? And where am I going?” I remember a friend telling me that he never pondered over the questions that occupied my thoughts. I envied him. I envied all my friends, who journeyed through life content with the seen. I felt cursed for wanting answers to questions many others did not even think to ask. I felt cursed for wanting to know the unseen. I felt cursed, until the moment I knew I was blessed.
In earnest, my spiritual consciousness awoke in Brazil, while working with a non-profit organization promoting indigenous rights. I lived at a school, where I studied Portuguese with Christian missionaries from all over the world. These missionaries did not try to convert anyone. They sought only to help others in desperate need. I started to rethink my views on religion. How could religion be so horrible, if it produces people, who spend their lives in the service of others?
When I returned to the United States, I began attending a liberal Catholic church. It was wonderful, except for one thing – I did not believe the basic theological foundation of Christianity. I believed Jesus (as) was a prophet, not God. Somehow, I was able to overlook this major theological difference for quite some time. Then, a good Jewish friend attended service with me one Sunday and said that she never understood, why priests talked so much about Jesus in their sermons and so little about God. Her seemingly innocuous observation changed my life. I could no longer sit comfortably in the pews and pretend that I belonged. In many ways, my Jewish friend led me to Islam.
I started to research different religions – not so much to convert but to see, what else was out there. At the same time, my mother gave me several books written by a well-known, self-proclaimed Sufi. His discussion of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) and Islam enthralled me. Eventually, I came to believe that this particular author was a charlatan, but he inspired in me love for the Prophet (sa) and respect for Islam. This author wrote that people should not convert to Islam, take on Islamic practices, or read from traditional texts. He suggested that only his work held the key to spiritual excellence in the twentieth century. Nevertheless, his writings encouraged me to read more about Islam from other sources. In one of his books, I believe he quotes the saying “leave your donkey at the door.” So, once again, I was led to Islam by an unlikely source.
I have often remarked that I did not choose Islam; Islam chose me. As soon as I read its teachings, I felt home. I could not believe that a religion existed, in which many of my beliefs were established creeds. Still, I did not feel the need to convert. But Allah (swt) has a plan for each of us. A classmate in graduate school gave me a translation of the Quran. It sat on the corner of my desk for months. One day, I decided to read it. As soon as I read Surah Al-Fatihah, I knew I was going to convert. It was the prayer I had been trying to write all my life.
As I continued to read, I started to fall asleep. I found myself looking up at the sky. The sky was bright gold. Arabic letters in bronze moved slowly across it. It looked as if an enormous scroll was unfolding above me. The colours in this dream – if I can call it a dream – were amazing. They glowed but unlike anything I had ever seen before. Such words as ‘brilliant’, ‘radiant’, ‘incandescent’ and ‘luminous’ fail to capture what I experienced. The dream was so powerful that I became scared and woke myself up. Since that time, I have had only two other dreams with amazing indescribable colours. Like the breeze I experienced as a child, I believe now as I did then, that these colours were from another world.
Shortly thereafter, I took my Shahadah. The Imam gave me a few books. One of the books made me gasp. On the cover was a picture of an open Quran. The pages were bright gold and the script was in bronze – just like in my dream! At that moment, I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be.
Ironically, what almost led me away from Islam were its followers. Someone once told me not to judge Islam by Muslims. I wish I had heard that advice, when I first converted. About a year after I took the Shahadah, I felt alone in the religion. I could not find a community, where I fit in. I was told many beliefs about Islam that did not seem right. I found it difficult to untangle what was Islam and what was cultural. I wondered, if a westerner could truly be a Muslim.
I prayed to Allah (swt) for guidance. He (swt) led me to the German author Murad Wilfried Hofmann. Among his many achievements, Mr. Hofmann was an ambassador to Morocco, who converted to Islam. Like me, he was also an attorney. I read his books and realized that there was a place for someone like me in Islam. Allah (swt) also sent me many beautiful sisters, who continue to travel with me on this wondrous path.
As I look back on my life, I wonder why I was so blessed to be called to Islam. I did nothing to deserve it. I know many non-Muslims who seem far more worthy than I. I wonder: “Why me and not them?”
Faith is the most beautiful gift. Each day, I try to thank Allah (swt) for guiding me to Islam, knowing that my gratitude is wholly insufficient. I try to be obedient, but I worry, because I often fail. I find comfort in the belief that Allah (swt), Most Merciful and Most Forgiving, continues to guide and forgive me, as He does with all believers. Between hope and fear, I journey on.